Allison Burns’ face lights up as she describes her passion for Salish wool weaving.
Also known as Cheximiya (her ancestral name), the human resources trainer and coordinator at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre (SLCC) gave weaving demonstrations at the centre on Friday (June 19) in honour of National Aboriginal Day, which took place on Sunday (June 21).
“I am excited to be here,” she said, eyes sparking. “It makes me very proud to be on site organizing all the different aspects of what’s taking place today. I have a real passion for the wool weaving. It really relaxes me. I’ve always wanted to be an artist — growing up drawing and painting were my favourite things, but I was never really good at it. Once I found this art form I really felt like I’d found my art form that I could take a hold of.”
A Squamish Nation member living in North Vancouver, Burns hadn’t tried wool weaving until starting at the SLCC when it opened seven years ago. Prior to the centre’s grand opening in July 2008, most staff members were trained in different crafts — weaving being one of them. “Chief Janice George and her husband Buddy Joseph came into the centre and taught us the basics,” she said. “They showed us, on small looms, how to do the easy styles of weaving; one style is called the tabby weave.”
George and Joseph brought back wool weaving to Squamish Nation by going out into the communities and schools and partnering with RBC. “It was almost a lost art form for our people for many years,” Burns said. “(Before it was reintroduced) there were only a handful of people who had some sort of idea; they were essentially the ones who pioneered bringing it back to Squamish Nation. Now there are about 200 different wool weavers within the
Squamish community; it’s a thriving art form now. It’s amazing to have teachers go into the different schools and share the art form with students, as well as so many people that come here and learn from myself and my aunt.”
Traditionally weaving would be done with mountain goat wool, with colour gained from plant life, berries and minerals such as copper. These days it is made with sheep wool and acrylic thread. “We use storable materials that we can easily gain access to,” Burns said. “Doing the collecting, carding, dying and spinning is a whole art form all on its own. It takes a long time to create a piece, if I had to do it myself it would take forever!”
The chunkily knitted turqoise, purple, gold and cream sash Burns was wearing took her three to four days to make in total, she said. In the past, pieces would be worn while honouring someone or during marriage ceremonies or given as dowries. How they are worn signifies meaning. “Worn over the right shoulder and under the left arm it shows you are working; the other way it would be covering the heart and that would be somebody hired to do some work at a ceremony. The big blankets covering both shoulders mean someone is being honoured.”
Burns personally owns many different sized looms. “I like to use the traditional techniques in a modern way, incorporating the modern touches with the bright colours — traditionally there’d be more of the whites, browns and a little bits of reds used.”
She said she’s thrilled to be able to share the art form with visitors from around the world at SLCC.